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We desperately need negotiated compromise. But they've been out of that business in Washington so long they must have forgotten how.

To negotiate a compromise, you must deal in the margins, meaning the space containing desired policies you are willing to give up entirely or in part, and undesirable ones sought by your rivals that you're willing to accept entirely or in part.

But you can't negotiate on something you fully believe in principle and that your rivals mostly believe in principle and that an overwhelming majority of the American people also fully believes in principle.


There is currently at work in the country a certain overwhelmingly supported premise of logic, fairness and virtue. It's the one about undocumented persons brought to the country as minors by undocumented parents and raised and educated here from childhood into adulthood through no misdeed of their own, and while behaving all the while in a law-abiding way.

A strong majority of officeholders and citizens believe those people should not be rounded up from their homes and deported to a land alien to them. It is widely held that you don't blame the kids for the sins of the parents.

The principle was woven into a Barack Obama policy that Donald Trump canceled because it was a Barack Obama policy. He said it needed to be provided by a law--a law now hanging in the odd balance of his and his fellow Republicans' nonsensical insistence on negotiation.

Whether to build a wall on the Mexican border, or severely reduce the legal immigration permitted in a calendar year, or tighten the screws on so-called chain migration by which families of descendants get preference--these are policies on which there is negotiating room.

There you're looking for a dollar figure or a quantity:

• How much money will we spend for how many miles of the president's wall this year?

• How many legal immigrants will we permit next year?

• How many and which family members will we let into the country next year?

Everyone can hold their noses and shake hands. Nobody's remotely delighted; nobody's quite aghast.

Government, they call it. Business, some call it. Marriage, I've heard it called. Life, others say.

But about those so-called Dreamers, those sinless children perhaps now grown--on whose continued acceptance in our country nearly all of us agree, by what nearly all of us consider a matter of virtue--there can be no reasonable negotiation.

There are said to be 800,000 of these Dreamers. What are Republicans to do--round up all of them, load them in vans and drive them all to Mexico if Democrats don't let President Trump have his wall and Tom Cotton his reduction on legal and chain immigration?

Or how about this: Republicans would offer that they would accept money for, say, 800 miles of the president's wall, and, in return, say, 700,000 of the Dreamers could stay?

What you'd be doing is telling frightened and innocent people that you want to treat them fairly and protect them, then taking them hostage, then proposing to use as leverage in negotiations your willingness to act immorally toward those people in contradiction of the virtue you profess.

That's precisely what the White House is proposing, as well as Cotton, and as well as the Republican congressional leadership.

They essentially say that, of course, they want to protect the Dreamers, but that they're going to need some border wall funding and chain migration reduction before doing it.

"Give this president some of his wall or we're going to do wrong by these blameless people" ... that's what Republicans are saying.


Trump got confused the other day--or stayed in that usual state--when he seemed to say that all he wants is a clean bill to take care of these 800,000 people.

A clean bill would be a simple one codifying Obama's order, which, in his next breath, Trump made contingent on other immigration issues.

House Majority Whip Kevin Mc-Carthy stepped in to explain that the president didn't mean what the president might have been misunderstood to say.

Trump even seemed to say he's willing to take the heat from the right on a path to citizenship for persons now living here illegally. But he may have had the Dreamers and broader amnesty all gummed up.

Trump seldom understands what he's talking about on policy. He has no guiding policy conviction to fall back on. And he gets a lot of his corrective instruction from his favorite senator, Our Boy Tom Cotton. So his own underlying ignorance and moral vacancy get compounded by mean-spirited extremism.

We need a clean and simple one-subject bill imposing Obama's moral solution protecting the Dreamers.

Then Republicans could put as many things as they want in another broader--and fully negotiable--immigration bill.


John Brummett, whose column appears regularly in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, was inducted into the Arkansas Writers' Hall of Fame in 2014. Email him at Read his @johnbrummett Twitter feed.

Editorial on 01/11/2018

Print Headline: The art of compromise

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  • BoudinMan
    January 11, 2018 at 7:14 a.m.

    Tom Cotton putting heads together with Cheetolini? Boy, are we doomed.

  • RBear
    January 11, 2018 at 7:30 a.m.

    Good column John on many fronts and unlike those on the right who just applaud Gitz, I'll provide my reasons.
    As you point out about the Obama administration's views on this issue it was one based more on fact and rational thought rather than political hyperbole. Under Obama, the focus was more on removals rather than returns, primarily because border crossings had actually decreased significantly during his administration. To take that a step further, a prioritized system where true criminals were the top priority for removal. It didn't require a wall because it really wasn't needed and it focused on getting the violent criminal element out of our nation.
    To another point you make, dreamers were not on the priority list because, quite honestly, they are productive citizens and were brought here not by their own choice. In light of that situation, removing them does no good for anyone. It's just a "get tough" position by Republicans with no real strategy or impact analysis.
    Trump is going into this "negotiation" against the American people who a) strongly support DACA (maybe he's starting to realize that) and b) oppose the wall realizing how wasteful and worthless it is. It's time to just deal with DACA and quit trying to pad the pockets of contractors who contributed heavily to Republicans. Let's solve the DACA problem and move on.

  • Foghorn
    January 11, 2018 at 8:13 a.m.

    While I agree with the conclusion I think it sadly naive. Trump didn’t even know what a ‘clean’ bill meant. He has Dems right where he wants them - over a barrel. If they don’t agree to his terms, they lose DACA and could be blamed for a shutdown. If they do agree to wall funding in exchange for DACA, they’ll be called sellouts. They have zero leverage to de-couple DACA from Trump’s wall.

  • mozarky2
    January 11, 2018 at 8:29 a.m.

    Ah, yes, DB, the genius of Trump- he'll always be several steps ahead of you "progs".

  • Rightside
    January 11, 2018 at 8:36 a.m.

    No the President wasn't confuse only Brummett and some media. Democrats, media and Brummett want it their way, sort of like universities with their liberal policies we are right and everybody else shutup we don't want to hear your ideals.
    Brummett says "Republicans' nonsensical insistence on negotiation" it's only Brummett and the Dems way or it's no way. Sorry Dems your not getting a Daca bill your way.

    Two-thirds of voters polled, 66 percent, said in a Quinnipiac University poll released Wednesday they would characterize the economy as “excellent” or “good.” Quinnipiac noted that figure is the highest rating since it began asking the question in 2001. Dems and Brummett sad.

    Toyota and Mazda will build a new final assembly plant in Huntsville, Alabama.
    The plant will employ 4,000 workers and crank out up to 300,000 vehicles annually.

  • drs01
    January 11, 2018 at 8:43 a.m.

    I can have compassion for these DACA kids, although I must ask why many of them haven't sought legal status in the years they have been here illegally. They are the product of a broken immigration system that has been ignored by countless presidents and congress. Give Trump some love for forcing the issue. It's about time we had someone with balls addressing this.
    We are still a nation of laws. Not wink and nod as we look the other way.

  • mozarky2
    January 11, 2018 at 9:01 a.m.

    Meanwhile, people are getting fatter paychecks and smaller utility bills, and the dims OPPOSE this!
    Yeah, run on that, "progs"!
    The liberals will continue to bleat with their blinders on.
    The insane left will continue to scream about the President’s sanity.
    The media will continue to promulgate their propaganda.
    And President Donald J. Trump will continue to MAGA!

  • Foghorn
    January 11, 2018 at 9:15 a.m.

    Will someone please explain how my utility bills are lower? I see no change, even though many utilities in other states HAVE lowered rates since the tax cuts. I’ve seen no indication that that will happen in AR.

  • GeneralMac
    January 11, 2018 at 10:21 a.m.

    sometimes a "negotiated compromise" is not the best solution.

    Some say FDR should have sought a " negotiated compromise" with Japan midway thru WWII.

    He and Harry Truman did not and Japan has caused us no trouble in 70+ years.

    "negotiated compromise"......a married couple in frigid Minnesota wants to get away for a couple weeks. He says Arizona, she says Florida.
    They then follow the advice of Arkansas Democrat Gazette columnist John Brummett and " hold their nose" and compromise on Nebraska ?
    JB seems to think that a deal that neither side likes is a good compromise.

  • mozarky2
    January 11, 2018 at 10:31 a.m.

    Things you should have learned in school:
    DB, corporate taxes are a pass-through from the utilities to the consumer. Corporate taxes have gone down.
    Meanwhile, when President Trump tweets a question, you can bet your a** he already knows the answer!
    Donald J. Trump @realDonaldTrump · 4h Disproven and paid for by Democrats “Dossier used to spy on Trump Campaign. Did FBI use Intel tool to influence the Election?” @foxandfriends Did Dems or Clinton also pay Russians? Where are hidden and smashed DNC servers? Where are Crooked Hillary Emails? What a mess!